April 19, 2024

Strengthening Young Children’s Social and Emotional Well-being in Guam through Conscious Discipline

By: Eloise R. Sanchez, Kathlina Martin, Amy Speidel, and Genine Rocco
Photo: Guam Social and Emotional Learning-Elementary Counselors participants at the Conscious Discipline Training (January 2024).

In 2019, recognizing that social and emotional learning (SEL) is an important component of early school readiness and healthy child development, the Guam Department of Education (GDOE) requested capacity building support from the Region 18 Comprehensive Center (R18CC) to grow systems and structures to support student well-being. Early project activities included needs assessment, root-cause analysis, stakeholder engagement, policy development and approval, review of effective instructional practices, and implementation planning. Details on the impacts of these early stages can be accessed here. Building on these early activities, the GDOE and R18CC focused on building the capacities of teachers and school-based staff to integrate SEL and trauma-informed practices with academic teaching and learning.


As a result, over the last five years approximately 500 of GDOE’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) educators took part in the R18CC Scaling & Strengthening Guam Public Pre-kindergarten project. These ECE educators participated in a multi-year professional development series designed to grow their capacity to strengthen the social and emotional development of children from birth to grade 3. These training sessions launched in January 2020 with Ms. Amy Speidel, Master Instructor, working with 150+ ECE educators to build knowledge of the evidence-based Conscious Discipline strategies.

With the onset of the COVID Pandemic in March 2020, the learning series shifted to a virtual platform to deliver the May and July sessions. As the R18CC pivoted to virtual training, both R18CC and the GDOE leadership asked, “Will this approach positively impact the ability for ECE educators to gain knowledge and effectively migrate these strategies into the classroom?” The answer was a resounding “Yes.” As a result of the initial professional learning sessions, GDOE was able to open the SY 2020–2021 with three customized instructional approaches to enhancing SEL, designed to reach all students in the district.  During SY 2021–2022, the scaling of Conscious Discipline instructional practices began with additional cohorts of ECE educators participating in virtual Conscious Discipline training sessions. By SY 2022–2023, over 400 early childhood educators had been trained in Conscious Discipline.

Photo: Early childhood educators engaging in Conscious Discipline strategies (January 2024)

Strengthening ECE programming in Guam necessitated a clear focus on the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development of Guam’s early learners. By training ECE teachers on Conscious Discipline strategies, ECE teachers report that they are better equipped to implement the seven skills of Composure, Encouragement, Assertiveness, Choices, Empathy, Positive Intent, and Consequences, as well as effective practices for family and community engagement and parent/caregiver education. By prioritizing early learning and social-emotional competencies, GDOE aimed to increase the knowledge and skills of early childhood educators who shape children’s academic and behavioral attributes during the first eight years of life.


Guam’s early childhood educators provided ongoing feedback on the usefulness, relevance, quality, and impact of the Conscious Discipline trainings and documented how new instructional practices were implemented in early learning environments. Ms. Jonilin San Nicolas, a teacher at MA Ulloa Elementary School, shared that “The training provided great insight into Conscious Discipline. One immediate change since the training I’ve incorporated into my classroom is not using the common phrase “I like the way…” and replacing it with “If you need an example look at… It helps students to look to their peers for encouragement on how to behave and provides a model.  I’ll be sharing at the upcoming faculty meeting/PD about Composure and the Pinwheel breathing activity plus about Assertiveness and the M.A.P method. ” Another attendee, Ms. Marchelle Sablan stated, “The training should be available for the whole school community and parents/caretakers too. Amy Speidel has a wealth of knowledge and experience we can all learn from and apply in our classrooms and at home. As she was presenting, I could hear myself and it was a reminder about being more mindful about my words and actions and the effect it may have on my students and my children.” Ms. Patricia Roman, a second grade teacher at JQ San Miguel Elementary School shared, “Having participated in R18CC: Guam PreK Project’s SEL: Conscious Discipline Training on January 19, I learned that creating a classroom environment that is nurturing enough to build connections and form relationships is essential to ensuring that we are safe and that we can adapt to changing situations.  I have shared with members of my teaching community that we can use different strategies in the classroom to encourage student engagement and build trust.  Some of the interactions mentioned from the training included breathing techniques (for example, using a pinwheel) to help regulate our emotions when it comes to stress or anxiety.  Being able to initiate self-control allows us as teachers to make conscious decisions that will affect the way we interact with our students and with other colleagues.”

Photo: Ms. Amy Speidel sharing with participants concepts of Conscious Discipline (January 2024).

Fast forwarding to SY2023–2024 and the experiences of Guam’s Cohort 5 Conscious Discipline participants, R18CC was excited to welcome 90 Guam-based early childhood educators, district mentors, and elementary counselors for the January 2024 Conscious Discipline training. In seeking to strengthen safe and healthy learning environments, GDOE leadership was purposeful in ensuring that district mentors, instructional coaches, as well as the elementary school-based counselors were able to attend and grow their knowledge of the Conscious Discipline strategies and concepts so that they would be well prepared to assist classroom teachers. 


Ms. Brenda Porter, one of GDOE’s elementary counselors shared, “The Conscious Discipline training was interactive and fun. I learned ways to help regulate my students and myself. The S.T.A.R. technique is easy to remember smile, take a deep breath and relax. I plan to teach my students this technique so they can learn to relax.” Ms. Speidel stated, “It is important to bring sense and meaning to what children do.”  She added, “It has been a personal joy partnering with the teachers and coaches on Guam. Their commitment to learning Conscious Discipline skills to bringing best practices for children and families has the potential to build stronger and healthier relationships within the schools and communities.” Ms. Genine Rocco, the Early Childhood Education Teacher Specialist, indicated that “Trainings over the last several years have equipped the Guam Department of Education’s Early Childhood educators with effective strategies to support the development of young children’s social and emotional learning. Having had the district mentors/instructional coaches, as well as the elementary counselors attend the trainings will help to sustain the principles of Conscious Discipline.”

For further information on this project, please contact Eloise R. Sanchez, Senior Program Specialist in Social-Emotional Learning and Early Learning Programs (sancheze@prel.org) or Ms. Kathlina Martin, Migrant Education Specialist, at martink@prel.org at the R18CC.

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